Dungeons & Dragons

on December 08, 2000 by L. J. Strom
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Though inspired by a fantasy role-playing game that's been popular for more than 25 years, "Dungeons & Dragons" is a sub-par sword-and-sorcery flick. Empress Savina (Thora Birch) wants equality for all her people, commoners and elite magic-using Mages alike, but this incurs the wrath of Profion (Jeremy Irons), who, happy with the status quo, schemes to oust the Empress. To prevent the megalomaniacal Mage from scoring his coup, a motley gang of adventurers that includes thieves Ridley (Justin Whalin) and Snails (Marlon Wayans) and an apprentice Mage (Zoe McLellan) mount a quest for the red scepter that will help Savina defeat Profion.

   First-time producer-director Courtney Solomon reportedly spent 10 years pushing to get this movie made and, while his drive is commendable, it unfortunately doesn't compensate for his inexperience. Muddy visuals and awkward pacing conspire with bombastic music to make the movie seem less than the sum of its parts. Worse, the script is half-baked, derivative and cliched. It may be nearly impossible to do fantasy nowadays without cribbing from "Star Wars" and the Tolkien oeuvre, but "D&D" doesn't even put its own spin on its stock situations the way, say, "The Princess Bride" did with its wry, subversive wit.

   While "D&D" obviously hasn't set out to redefine a genre, it doesn't succeed on its own modest terms, either, offering neither enthralling adventure nor memorable characters. What ends up being most entertaining is watching the actors struggle with the clunky, portentous dialogue. Whalin and McLellan manage adequately, but Birch seems lost, so we are left to enjoy Irons as he chomps amusingly on chunk after chunk of scenery.

   A tense sequence in a deathtrap maze and a campy cameo by Richard O'Brien of "Rocky Horror" fame redeem "D&D" from total doghood but these elements don't lend enough of the magic this film so desperately needs. Starring Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Zoe McLellan, Thora Birch and Jeremy Irons. Directed by Courtney Solomon. Written by Topper Lilien & Carroll Cartwright. Produced by Courtney Solomon, Kia Jam and Tom Hammel. A New Line release. Fantasy/Action. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence. Running time: 108 min

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